By Sharanya Gopinathan
Have you ever felt infuriated when filling out a form that asks you to list your husband/father’s name? It always rankles, because it speaks of the patriarchal notion that a woman must always “belong” to a man and be identified by her ties to either her father or husband.
Things like this also raise other complex issues, which Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi raised in her letter to Human Resource Development Minister Prashant Javadekar. She says that she has heard of many women who faced trouble getting their children’s degree certificates if they couldn’t provide the child’s father’s name, and that the rules around this should factor in the sensitivity around the issue of the “breakdown of marriages”. In an earlier correspondence regarding the necessity of providing the child’s father’s name in passports, she had remarked that it was “demeaning” for single women to reveal irrelevant details about the identity of their child’s father.
While I don’t necessarily fully agree with the rhetoric that it is actually demeaning for single women to reveal these details, I understand what she means about the different kinds of reactions single women face in these situations due to other people’s regressive mindsets, which can seem demeaning, and agree that it’s necessary for there to be rules in place that allow for single mothers to get their children’s degree certificates and passports without having to face annoying kinds of opposition, be it social or bureaucratic. There are other reasons to provide though: insisting on providing a father’s name reiterates patriarchal norms of belonging, cancels out the possibility of alternative family structures being recognised and in some ways, supports the primacy of the institution of marriage.
Speaking of passports and patriarchy, just last week, we reported on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s claim that “from now onward, women will not have to changes their names in the passport after their marriage”, which was really not a new development at all, but one included in existing passport rules: women were never legally automatically required to change their names after marriage, in their passports or anywhere else. Perhaps the preponderance of forms and norms that require women to provide their kinship ties to men confused even the Prime Minister into thinking these were actual rules.